Lynn Burkhead — Outdoors world can provide powerful, life-changing moments

Herald Democrat
A social media memory earlier this month reminded Herald Democrat outdoor writer Lynn Burkhead of a treasured hunting memory with his son Will, who now prepares to graduate from SFA.

Perusing the social media accounts the other day, a long ago memory was brought back to life, one that had laid dormant and forgotten for some time.

When it was suddenly brought back into the stream of my consciousness, it served as a reminder of how powerful the outdoors world can be, enough so that it can alter a life’s trajectory and help determine its path forward through an uncertain world.

That thought came about when Facebook popped up the memory of the buck that my youngest son Will took in December several years ago, a big bruiser that fell to one well-placed bolt fired from a crossbow.

Will was already interested in deer hunting before that long ago youth hunt, in part because it’s such a big part of my life. After I began working for ESPNOutdoors.com in 2001, chances to go on various writer hunts across the country began to pop up and my taxidermy bill slowly went up.

But the problem with such hunts is that they rarely afford any chance for any family participation. And as a man of humble means, I never could really find that affordable deer lease that gave my kids the kind of hunting chances that I wanted them to have as they were growing up.

Thanks to the generosity of friends, and the occasional lease that would work out for a season or two, both of my sons got periodic chances to deer hunt and every once in a while, put a fresh load of venison in the freezer.

But the quest for antlers on the wall remained unrealized for Will until one evening a number of years ago when a phone call from Texas Game Warden Dale Moses, a sudden last minute opening on a youth hunt, and my son’s eagerness to fill that spot on a moment’s notice all collided.

The next afternoon, as Will sat waiting with a TPWD game warden in a box blind, an injured buck suddenly limped out of the woods with a broken leg (presumably from a buck fight), presenting a bit of an ethical dilemma.

While does for the freezer were the object of the hunt, a consultation between the warden and ranch owner Greg Almond determined that Will should try and take the injured buck to put it out of its misery. After steadying the crossbow scope’s crosshairs on the buck’s boiler room, the shot from Will was true, a big buck was down and headed for the taxidermist, and the freezer was full of jerky meat, ground venison, butterflied steaks and backstrap.

In the photo session that ensued later that evening, I captured a few images of Will smiling as big as he ever had before or since. They are treasured moments for a father and a son, a memory of a time when everything came together in an outdoors moment that won’t soon be forgotten.

Like this month when I attend the college graduation ceremony of my son Will, thinking back on that evening when a young boy, a big old buck, and a lifetime trajectory all collided on a chilly North Texas evening.

Because as I wait for Will’s name to be called out, it will be for a degree in forestry and wildlife management from Stephen F. Austin State University where he’s attended college since graduating from Denison High School.

Sitting there will be yours truly, my wife, our family, and a beautiful young woman named Ashley. She’ll be smiling broadly as Will walks the stage, pandemic era and all, to finally receive the diploma he has spent the last several years working so hard for.

And a few months from now, Ashley will be smiling again, this time in an East Texas setting as she and Will gather to exchange wedding vows as they promise to love each other for better or for worse, all before family, friends, and the Creator above.

As I thought about all of this the other day after the Facebook memory alert — and considered all of the other times that I’ve been out in the field with my family — I was struck by the simple power of the outdoors world and the journeys into it to go hunting, fishing, camping, skiing, and more.

There were long ago duck hunts with my daughter Katie and our late Labrador retriever Maggie. There were duck hunts, dove hunts, and deer hunts with Will and his older brother Zach in wild places scattered from the Red River to the Rio Grande. By the way, I’m equally proud of the Z-Man as I call him, since he’s wrapping up an aviation degree at Southeastern Oklahoma State University this weekend, albeit without an in person graduation ceremony to celebrate.

Over the years, our family’s love of the outdoors has taken us fly fishing on a Montana trout stream, to mountains for spring break ski adventures, to lonely beaches along the Gulf Coast, to big reservoirs in Texas for largemouth bass and striper quests, into cut agricultural fields for a September dove or two, frosty November deer stands where big rut crazy bucks are hopefully cruising, and to December and January duck blinds where hopefully a greenhead or two will fly in.

Now that my kids are getting older and moving into life on their own, our time together in the field is not nearly as frequent as dear old — or is that deer old — dad would like. But it’s also a joy to see my daughter find her own adventures with husband Tim and my two 20-something year old sons stretching their outdoor wings and learning how to fly. Already, there have been western hunting adventures and public land deer and duck hunting expeditions for the two brothers as they explore the curious family DNA that draws us outdoors.

With quests for wild turkeys, whitetails, elk, pronghorn antelope, mallards, pintails, and more filling the conversations of my two sons — not to mention their Christmas gift wish lists — it’s obvious that these two guys who look too much like me in the mirror are definitely following in my footsteps, at least as far as the outdoors world is concerned.

Hopefully, faith, family, and the outdoors will remain important and treasured parts of their lives going forward, providing them with teachable moments, great family memories, and some exquisite wild dining opportunities as the years slip by.

While I miss the days when I had to wake them up, get them dressed in hand-me-down camo, and get all of us going towards a distant duck blind or deer stand, it’s also highly satisfying to be a father in his mid-50s watching his two young adult sons find their own adventures in the Creator’s wild world.

As I pause and wait for Will’s name to be called at SFA, don’t pay any attention if you see a middle aged man wiping a tear away, remembering a deer hunting memory many years ago.

It was a moment that spurred on a love of the outdoors world, pushed a young boy towards a certain university where he could find his way into an academic path and career, and ultimately, discover the love of his life.

All of which confirms what yours truly has known for years. And that’s this, that the Creator’s outdoors canvas is a rich and powerful place, one that provides some of life’s greatest blessings and life altering moments.

Thanks for the reminder Facebook. I’ll treasure that outdoors memory for as long as I live.